Collective bargaining not worth it for teachers
by Greg Forster, contributor for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA)Oklahoma should follow the example of other states that are moving away from collective bargaining in K-12 education. It’s not just bad for kids, it’s bad for teachers.
I’m not against unions. My wife worked for a union for years, volunteering long hours as an employee advocate in company dispute resolution. The union was the only protection in her workplace from corporate mistreatment and contract violations. But collective bargaining and representation simply isn’t a good fit for K-12 teachers. Doctors and lawyers don’t unionize. The nature of the work they do just doesn’t permit the standardization, controlled processes, and highly specified work outputs that are necessary for collective bargaining to be effective.Teachers are like doctors and lawyers. Standardizing the work they do into a one-size-fits-all mold creates major headaches. But collective bargaining demands standardization, so processes and outputs can be negotiated. The standardization demanded by collective bargaining is a major factor in all the complaints we’re accustomed to hearing from public-school teachers—useless paperwork, unreasonable rules, rigid systems, dysfunctional bureaucracy. In a 2009 study of national data from the U.S. Department of Education, I compared public and private school teachers. The difference in teacher working conditions was dramatic.
Private school teachers, unhindered by the standardization of collective bargaining, were much more likely to have a great deal of control over selection of textbooks and instructional materials (53% v. 32%); content, topics, and skills to be taught (60% v. 36%); performance standards for students (40% v. 18%), curriculum (47% v. 22%) and discipline policy (25% v. 13%). Private school teachers were also less likely to report that various categories of student misbehavior disrupted their classes, and four times less likely to say student violence is a problem on at least a monthly basis (12% v. 48%).It’s true that collective bargaining brings a moderate increase in pay. The Oklahoma State Department of Education reports that in 2016-17, the average high school teacher made $39,319 and the average elementary school teacher made $37,851. (This was before the $6,100 average pay raise teachers got this year.) In the same year, according to the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission, the average private school teacher salary across all grades was $36,947. Public school teachers also get better benefits and have job security protections.
But teachers don’t live by bread alone. In my study, I found that private school teachers are more satisfied with their jobs, even at somewhat lower pay. They were much more likely than public school teachers to agree that they planned to remain teaching as long as they could (62% v. 44%). They were less likely to agree that they only planned to teach until retirement (12% v. 33%), that they would leave teaching immediately if a job with a higher salary were available (12% v. 20%), that teaching “isn’t really worth it” because of the stress and disappointments (6% v. 13%) and that they sometimes feel like teaching is a waste of time (9% v. 17%). They were even slightly more likely to be satisfied with their salaries (51% v. 46%). We should rethink whether teachers are well served by collective bargaining. Teachers don’t like our one-size-fits-all schools any more than parents do.Greg Forster (Ph.D., Yale University) is a Friedman Fellow with EdChoice, the author of seven books, and a regular contributor for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.